Author Archives: Kieran Crowe
A big thank you goes out to everyone who came to our annual general meeting. Barnet TUC elected its committee for the new year and had a series of excellent speakers who sparked off an excellent debate about how we as movement can take the struggle for social justice forwards for another year.
Our first speaker was the academic and activist Linda Kaucher, who came talk about the threat posed to equality and democracy by the transatlantic treaties know as TTIP and, more urgently in her view, CETA. Although these are packaged for the public as “trade” agreements, Linda warns that they have very little if anything to do with trade, and everything to do with deregulation. Tariffs between EU and North American countries, she points out, are and have been very low for a long time, but standards of regulation to protect health, safety and the environment are much higher. Big business is lobbying hard for these treaties because it does not want such protections to get in the way of profits. An interesting debate ensued about the implications of this, and what it might mean in terms of the forthcoming EU referendum, but there was consensus that more needs to be done to oppose TTIP.
The next speaker was local councillor and new leader of the Barnet Council Labour group, Barry Rawlings. The Labour (and Lib Dem) counsellors have challenged the hard-rightwing Tory council this year by submitting complete alternative budgets, approved as valid by the council finance officers. Barry emphasised that the Tories have been pushing for massive cuts and privatisation by claiming that they have no choice in the matter because of reduced revenue (itself a Tory policy, of course, though they ignore this!), whereas the budget he’d moved showed that there was in fact a range of political choices that can be made in allocating resources. Among other things, they had had a proposal to replace all 800 social homes that are currently being lost through council regeneration projects, as well as significant defence of care services through use of a ring-fenced council take increase that would cost Barnet residents no more than 10p a week. The Labour group has invited the wider movement to have some constructive input into what choices a progressive council, that we could achieve, would do. There was very enthusiastic discussion about this, as no issue is more urgent in Barnet right now than putting a stop to the extreme austerity agenda. We all agreed though, that further resistance is also needed between now and the potential election of a new council, if there is to be any public services left to utilise, and libraries continue to be one of the key front-lines.
The evening was rounded off by Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union. He’d come to our meeting directly from spending the afternoon on a picket line of striking Junior Doctors, who he hailed as fighting a battle for us all and warned us not to let them be another National Union of Mineworkers. He proceeded to give a wide-ranging speech about the goals of his union and its struggle for equal rights and fair pay for young workers, who are massively exploited at the moment. He also emphasised the importance of the struggle against rise of racism, represented by the outrageous rhetoric that David Cameron has used against refugees. BTUC will be organising a Barnet meet-up for the March 19th demonstration against racism in London in that spirit.
On Saturday 12 March, Barnet Labour Party are holding Sadiq Super Saturday and would love for you to be involved. This is a day of campaigning in the local area to try and encourage support for Sadiq on in the London Mayoral election. To support Jeremy, and in order to ensure we have a Labour Mayor in London, it’s essential that we inspire support all across the city – and what could be better than doing that whilst making friends with other like-minded people. Don’t worry if it’s your first time, as there will be experienced canvassers there to help.
Volunteers will be meeting from 2 pm, at Finchley & Golders Green Labour Office, 38 Church Lane, Barnet, London N2 8DT, and the event is scheduled to end by 4 pm
Last night, the Peoples’ Assembly held an emergency rally in Central London in support of the Junior Doctors as their struggle against the Tories brutal assault on them and the National Health Service they work for, which has reached a new heightened level as Jeremy Hunt has announced he will impose new contracts that will force doctors to work far harder hours, as part of classic strategy of over working and underfunding a public service as a prelude to privatisation.
The evening began unconventionally with a bit of music from the activist choir, the National Health Singers, and then proceeded with a range of speakers from the movement. Yannis Gourtsoyannis of the BMA’s Junior Doctors section explained that the two actions so far have not just represented the Association finally acting in the true and best tradition of the trade union movement. They have also been an “act of mass whistle-blowing” against the plot against the NHS, which has exposed the Tories true agenda. He praised the fantastic public support that the doctors have received at picked lines and Meet-the-doctors events (despite terrible media coverage), before giving special praise to the Student Nurses, who are in their own dispute but also took an unprecedented hour of strike action in solidarity with the doctors.
The student nurses themselves were represented by Danielle Tiplady, who had been leading a campaign against the slashing of bursaries for nursing students. Just like the doctors, nurses are being paid less and squeezed by greater cuts, to the extent that many have reported going to food-banks to survive – a fact she had pointed out to Tory MP Ben Gummer when he claimed that they shared “the same interest”. Danielle quoted the constitution of the NHS, which clearly states that it belongs to the people, and urged the crowd to call for all the Tories out, not just the puppet Jeremy Hunt.
Both speakers strongly emphasised that a mass demonstration of support for the NHS needed, and the Peoples’ Assembly demo on the 16th of April, at which both the doctors and the nurses will be forming a mass health workers’ block. The other speakers, including the Kevin Courtney of the NUT and Dave Ward of the CWU, strongly emphasised the potential and need for this movement to finally unite the movements against austerity to defeat the Tory government – since support and reliance on the NHS transcends pretty much all other boundaries.
The next stop is the April 16th demonstration!
Thank you very much for the opportunity to say a few words at the conference today.
I wanted to cover three things.
First, where the economy is today, and the problems we face.
Second, the huge challenge facing all those on the left in attempting to address these problems.
Third, how our movement can start to develop a convincing strategy to deal with this.
Co-operatives, shared ownership, and workplace democracy all have a central role to play here. We can’t turn the clock back.
We need a wide-ranging debate on the way forward.
Jeremy laid out some key ideas last weekend, in his speech to the Fabian conference.
At the heart of his argument is the case for fairness.
We currently live in an economy that is visibly failing on this score.
Co-operatives should, I believe, play an essential part in the economy of the future.
But we live in an economy held back by the past.
Wealth is more concentrated now than it has been for a century or more.
Social mobility has dwindled.
Financial legislation is being unwound and serious attempts at scrutiny scrapped, just a few years after the catastrophic crash that was the bankers’ responsibility.
Yet we have lived with a succession of governments who have promised the opposite.
They believed that by unleashing markets, governments would unleash opportunity and creativity.
This approach promised new freedom for individuals, free from the dead hand of the state.
The Tories promised a “shareholding democracy” would arrive through privatisation. A “trickle-down effect” would mean that, even if the rich got very rich indeed, everyone else would be a little better off.
But the promises of freedom and “popular capitalism” turned out to be illusory.
Today, share ownership by individuals is at the close to the lowest level ever recorded. Just 12% of shares are owned by individuals in the UK, down from 28% in 1982, and pension funds own only 3%.
So a “shareholding democracy” never happened.
What we saw instead was an immense concentration of wealth in the hands of the very few.
Today, 62 people own the same wealth as half the world’s population.
But the same process was arguably more sweeping in Britain than many other places.
We moved, on economist Thomas Piketty’s figures, from one of the most equal economies in the Western world, to one of the most unequal.
As a share of GDP, the state wasn’t shrunk. But it was transformed.
On one hand, government became more centralised. Local authorities, for example, were stripped of their powers.
On the other side, the state became more passive, just moving money from one place to another. So the share of public spending on social security has risen as that for investment has fallen.
And when our banks crashed, the state was there, in effect, to arrange an immense transfer of wealth for them, backed up with promises of more.
We bailed out the banking system, and stabilised the economy, at vast expense.
And caught up in the crisis was the Co-op Bank: an institution behaving too little like a co-op and too much like a commercial bank.
We are left with a world in which the fundamental promises of the free market approach have not been delivered.
Instead of a trickle-down effect, we have had a monstrous “trickle-up”. Instead of a more dynamic economy, productivity has slumped.
George Osborne, since becoming Chancellor, has squandered his chance to resolve any of these structural problems.
Our economy remains unbalanced. Whilst services have recovered, manufacturing has actually shrunk since 2008.
Employment in London has risen by 12%. Employment in the rest of the whole country is up just 0.3%.
Our imbalance with the rest of the world, the current account deficit, has reached record levels in the last twelve months.
After years of collectively repaying their debts, households have begun to borrow again.
Unsecured lending, the riskiest kind, on things like credit cards and payday loans, is rising rapidly. TUC research reports that the number of people with “problem debt” has risen by 700,000 in the last two years, to 3.2 million.
The gender pay gap remains stubbornly large, at 9.4%.
This is what austerity economics has left us with and, if it continues, the next Labour government will have to repair the damage.
We can’t turn the clock back
However, we need to be quite clear about this. Whatever the achievements of the past, we cannot simply turn the clock back – whether to 1997, 1964, or 1945.
We must defend, and we are defending, those achievements. The victory on tax credits was one part of that. We now have the fight of a generation in defence of our NHS and so much else.
A priority for the next Labour government will be in sustaining the good that has been achieved in the past.
But that isn’t enough. The changes that have been wrought in our society over that period of time are now so great that they impose the need for a profound shift in how we think about changing the world.
The reasons are well-known. First, what some still think of as the traditional working class has been shrunk. Manufacturing today accounts for just ten percent of all employment.
Only 14% of private sector workers are in a union.
The working class today is still the clear majority of the population. But it is far more fragmented. The ability to win a political majority by appealing to major sectional interests has waned as a result.
The forward march of labour hasn’t “halted”. But it has changed its uniform.
Second, there is the immense cynicism about our major institutions. Big business, banks, the media: none are trusted. But nor are politicians.
So whilst opinion polls report clear majority support for basic, longstanding demands like nationalising the railways, there is a deep cynicism about the capacity of government to deliver.
Put these two factors together, and they mean we’ve depended for too long on a strategy that looked only to the state as a vehicle for change.
The argument that came to dominate the left, from at least the 1930s, was a simple one.
First take the state. Then use the state to change society.
This simple proposition achieved an extraordinary amount. We live today with the legacy of what the labour movement and its party have achieved.
Some of our most enduring and popular institutions – the NHS outstanding amongst them – were the product of this way of thinking.
Capitalism, it was argued during the long boom after the Second World War, had been successfully tamed. It was no longer the brutal struggle depicted by its early critics.
Government intervention and the welfare state had smoothed its rough edges. Private property in production was no longer sacrosanct and giant corporations effectively planned and managed large chunks of the economy.
Government’s main task was to redistribute from a growing economy. Rising equality would follow.
Deeper questions of ownership, control, and democracy were left to one side.
Labour governments, Old and New, thought and worked like this.
So the post-war boom saw rapid economic growth and falling inequality under Old Labour governments.
New Labour, meanwhile, oversaw a decade of rapid growth, and restrained the growth of inequality.
Both approaches involved a compromise with the reality of capitalism in their day.
Their success, however, meant deeper questions about the economy were left unasked by the mainstream of Labour.
And that, in turn, left Labour governments unprepared for system-wide crises.
The first, in the 1970s, brought about the collapse of the global economic order that had sustained rapid growth for the previous thirty years.
The second, at the end of the 2000s, brought about the collapse of the financial system that had sustained rapid growth for a decade.
We are still very much living through the consequences of that second collapse. We may yet find ourselves confronted by what Bank of England Chief Economist Andrew Haldane has called the “third wave” of global crisis.
If New Labour made a mistake that Old Labour did not, it was to cede too much to the existing powers.
This compromise meant a Labour government had to rely on a fundamentally unsustainable model of debt-driven growth.
We need to change the rules of the game.
Left unchanged, we can see the direction of travel.
Rising inequality, as Thomas Piketty and others have suggested.
Increased environmental destruction.
The erosion of our basic civil rights, in our workplaces and outside them.
Our problem, today, is that we must learn to think systemically about the kind of economy we want.
And where our opponents now warn and threaten about the terrors ahead, we must present a positive case for the future we all want.
The charity Nesta published a fascinating piece of research recently, showing how “future-focused” the different party manifestos were in last year’s election.
The Tories talked relentlessly, overwhelmingly about the future. Labour, strikingly, did not.
We cannot allow that to happen again. We cannot be small ‘c’ conservatives.
But the future we want will be built on the best of what we do now. We learn from the past.
As anti-fascist writer Carlo Levi put it, the future has an ancient heart.
The co-operative tradition
If the old economic strategies have run their course, we must look elsewhere.
There is a long labour movement tradition of decentralisation and grass-roots organisation. But it has been somewhat hidden by the success of the alternative.
This radical tradition has deep roots in our collective history. From RH Tawney, GDH Cole and the guild socialists, back to the Rochdale Pioneers, the Society of Weavers in Fenwick, Ayrshire, and even further back to the radicals of the English Civil War.
With the stress on self-organisation and on-the-ground solutions to problems, this tradition stressed the need to organise not just to win the state.
Even in the successes of the state, however, we can see this tradition at work. Take the NHS, the crowning achievement of Labour’s greatest government.
But it was modelled on and inspired by the medical benefit fund in Tredegar – Aneurin Bevan’s home town. This was a fund set up by a local initiative to provide medical treatment to the local community. It was a hugely successful scheme.
Bevan said, when asked about his plans as Health Minister, that what he was doing was “extending to the entire population of Britain the benefits we had in Tredegar for a generation or more. We are going to ‘Tredegarise’ you.”
There is a thread within the labour and radical movement of self-organisation, running right back even before the Chartists to those early organisers for democracy against “Old Corruption”.
We have much to draw on here. A tradition and an argument within the labour movement that stressed not just the need to make demands of the state, and to implement top-down measures, but work from the bottom-up, can provide a natural fit with both the changed society we inhabit, and the changes we can see coming.
Technology is proving disruptive. It can have terrible downsides – deskilling and an accelerated concentration of wealth.
But it also opens up new possibilities – the explosion of sharing that the Internet can provide.
There is an entrepreneurial spirit at work here: not the theatrical meanness and one-upmanship of Gordon Gekko, but a desire to create something better for us all.
The expansion of co-operatives in Britain since the crisis, matching developments across the rest of the world, shows the potential. There are now more than 7,000 independent co-operatives throughout the UK, contributing £35bn to the economy.
Co-operative businesses are more stable. Whilst only one in three new businesses makes it through the difficult first five years, four out of five co-ops do.
An effective economic strategy for the left would look now to build on this.
It means thinking beyond using the state to redistributeincomes. It means thinking about how we can ensureassets are distributed more fairly.
We can already see where this is happening. Local councils, pushed to their limits by spending cuts, have been forced to respond to deteriorating economic conditions.
Oldham Council has looked to develop its own responses to the crisis, working with Oldham Credit Union to reduce the burden of problem debt locally. Its Fair Employment Charter rewards local employers and looks to use local authority procurement to improve working conditions.
Enfield council in London has developed innovative contracting models with major local employers to support good jobs.
And Preston, inspired by the example of Cleveland, Ohio, has developed an extensive programme of work. Preston was one of the councils facing the very sharpest cuts to its funding out of any in the country. But they are responding creatively.
They have got major local employers and buyers – so-called anchor institutions, like the University of Central Lancashire – to drive through a local programme of economic transformation. By changing their procurement policies, these anchor institutions were able to drive up spending locally.
They’re looking to shift a proportion of the joint council’s £5.5bn pension fund to focus on local businesses, keeping the money circulating in Preston.
And the council is actively seeking opportunities to create local co-operatives as a part of local business succession, working with the local Chamber of Commerce. The aim is to sustain high quality local employment, by giving the chance for workers to keep a business in local hands.
It’s inspiring to see Labour councils responding to profound challenges like this.
It is not enough to oppose austerity. We must also provide a vision of the future. In embryo, and in dire circumstances, some of what Labour local authorities are doing is precisely that.
But it is action at scale that can make the biggest difference.
What the central government does still matters – even if it cannot, and should not, do everything.
A future Labour government will end the current programme of spending cuts. We will protect what has already been won.
But we must look beyond this point. We should be seizing the opportunity to create a fairer, more democratic society.
Osborne wants to make the government smaller, blindly hacking away at essentials like flood defences.
We think government should be smarter. That means recognizing the limits of central government – but recognizing also when it can help.
It’s not about flipping Osborne on his head, and simply increasing government spending. But we know there are some things government can do better.
Vital infrastructure spending has fallen under this government. Labour will invest, and invest across the whole country.
A fairer economy requires a fairer tax system. The great majority of people pay their taxes because they know taxes sustain the services we all need. It’s part of what makes a good, functioning, fair society.
Yet we have large corporations and the super-rich apparently viewing tax payments as an optional extra. That can’t go on. Ultimately, it undermines the public services we all need – and forces the burden of taxation onto people less able to carry it.
We can’t pretend state spending is the answer to everything. There are clear limits on what can be achieved here. But we can make the system work far better, and distribute the burden more fairly.
My colleague Seema Malhotra is currently looking at the current system of so-called “tax expenditures” – the different get-outs and reliefs provided by the tax system.
A thicket of different schemes has grown up, costing the taxpayer £110bn a year. Some of this will be justified. But some of it will not be. We’ll look at whether we need to simplify the system so it is fairer to everyone and encourages the growth a fair and prosperous economy.
We’d create a fairer tax system, taxing assets in an economically efficient way. And we’d help create the conditions for a flourishing of co-operative entrepreneurship.
We’d work with our partners in the Co-operative Party to help bring this about.
The biggest hurdle faced in establishing co-ops is in initial funding.
Small businesses in general, and not just co-operatives, face dreadful difficulties in getting the funding they need from our high-street banks.
No other major developed economy has just five banks providing 80% of loans. We’d look to break up these monopolies, introducing real competition and choice.
Regional and local banks, prudently run and with a public service mandate, have to be part of the solution here.
With consortium co-operatives providing an effective means for new businesses to share and reduce costs, we’d look to support these at a local level, working with local authorities, businesses and trade unions.
Italy’s Marcora Law, providing matched funding for those seeking to establish co-ops, is a model worth considering.
We will look into the recommendation in Graeme Nuttall’s report on employee ownership, creating a statutory right to request employee ownership and have proposals considered by their employers.
We should look to extend this approach, offering employees first rights on buying out a company or plant that is being dissolved, sold, or floated on the stock exchange.
The Tories have offered a “Right to Buy”.
Labour would seek to better this. We’d be creating a new “Right to Own”.
We will discuss these co-operative ideas as Labour’s “New Economics” lecture series, which we announced this week, is expanded across the country.
And as our policy development process rolls out over the next few years we will ask ourselves time and time again how the practical, everyday-socialist principles of the co-operative movement can be applied.
In an uncertain world where a laissez faire market approach continues to fail, co-operation is an idea whose time has come again.
This is the start of developing a new, positive economic alternative for Labour.
It’s the new economics.
Barnet TUC and the Barnet Alliance for Public Services participated in the annual general meeting of the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity on Saturday, just two of many delegations to the largest anti-cuts conference of the year. 2015 has not been an easy year, but it has been one in which the need for and effectiveness of the Peoples Assembly has been thoroughly proved.
Before the motions and the debates, there were introductory speeches. The first up was Dave Ward, new General Secretary of the CWU postal and communications union. He began by urging delegates to view the massive Tory U-turn on tax credit cuts as a big win for our movement, but also cautioned that there are four and half years left of the Tory government which in his own words had created a situation “the rich have never found an easier race to the top, the rest have never had a harder race to the bottom”. Ward also condemned the decision for Britain to join the Western bombing of Syria, which he likened to a head down charge. He described his ideas for what to do as both redesigning the fundamentals of the trade union movement for the modern economy, and also supporting the revitalised Labour Party under its new leadership. His vision for a new way to do things in the labour movement is to get sectoral, rather than localised, organisation and negotiation, mobilising as much of the trade unions’ six million members as possible.
The next speaker was Yannis Gourtsoyannis, a junior doctor and member of the British Medical Association junior doctors’ committee, with a report on the historically unprecedented industrial struggle they have been engaged in. The government has partially backed off imposing new employment conditions on junior doctors, causing the BMA to call off the planned, and potentially massive, strike on December 1st, but Dr Gourtsoyannis said that the proposals would still expand hours and pay differentiation among them under the guise of providing “cost neutral” expanded 7-day services (it strongly reminded me of the attempt to get London Underground workers to provide Night Tube services without costing any extra money). The young doctor emphasised that what at stake was not just the conditions of the staff and the safety of service users, but that if the doctors win they will have forced a crack in the edifice of austerity ideology. The struggle continues.
The third speaker was Christine Blower, leader of the National Union of Teachers. She focused her speech on the NUT’s firm belief in the power of social movement trades unionism, and said that the spirit of linking labour organisation to a wider political movement was had enabled successes such as the excellent June 20th demonstration this Summer. Blower gave the meeting some examples of the hardships that her teacher members were seeing amongst children in Cameron’s Britain: encountering children who only eat their free school meals because they are not fed at home, and entire cohorts of children at school that disappear as their parents take them away fleeing sky-high urban rents.
Following the opening speakers, a range of policy motions were debated and agreed upon (see the People’s Assembly website for these). BTUC and BAPS jointly moved a motion motion urging all member bodies to actively campaign to make all their local authorities into TTIP-free zones. The AGM unanimously agreed to get its local groups to raise petitions and bring motions to local and regional legislative bodies to get them to defy this secretive and menacing deal. This strategy is a real opportunity to redress the fact that TTIP has been largely ignored in the British media, and to raise awareness of TTIP among the public. This has already been done extensively in France, Germany and Spain, as well as 19 British authorities including Conservative run North Somerset.
The main part of the day closed with a key-note speech by socialist Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, who received a rapturous welcome. McDonnell admitted that the mere eight weeks that have passed since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader have been a challenge, but that brave stands by the party are being vindicated. He praised the People’s Assembly as essential part of the new politics that Jeremy promised to deliver, and said that these new politics is delivering. Although Parliament did vote for war a majority of Labour MPs and Shadow Cabinet members did vote “No” on a free vote, something McDonnell said he wished the Tories had allowed (only 7 Tory MPs defied the whipped vote on Wednesday).
John proceeded with laying out his vision for Labour should be offering: democracy in the economy and a say for ordinary people at the top of public and private companies. This vision relies on a healthy trade union movement, and on this point McDonnell reaffirmed total opposition to anti-union laws and supported the words of the leader of Britain’s biggest union, Len McCluskey of Unite, when he said that if stepping outside the law was necessary to protect the movement, it will have to be done. He praised the words of the comedian, and big Assembly supporter, Francesca Martinez, when she said that really was something fundamentally wrong with society being obsessed with GDP as a measure of success. He said that it was all part of a distorted narrative that exists in the country, the same one that has lied and rubbished Labour endlessly (and rather stupidly in the wake of an excellent by-election result in Oldham this week). He strongly encouraged the audience to make more use of new and social media, as a response to the problems our movement faces getting a fair hearing in the mass media. In his concluding words, he said that the vote for war had been a terrible step backwards in foreign policy, taking us further away from Britain working for peace and back toward Britain acting as an aggressor. He said of Hilary Benn’s pro-war speech: “It was great oratory, but some of the greatest oratory of the past has lead to some of the greatest mistakes.”. He said that he was still determined to fight for a political solution and, even more than this, to get justice for the refugees fleeing war in their millions. “Hope” he said “is back in our political system.”
This lead us well into the final session, which had been added to the agenda in response to the bombing of Syria. The People’s Assembly affirmed opposition to war, and to help to build the Stop the War Coalition march on the following Saturday (12th of December) and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstration on February 27th 2016.
This Saturday, I had the good fortune to be invited along with Tirza Waisel from Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) to be among many speakers the regional TUC’s conference which was titled “Stronger Unions – Stronger Trades Councils – Stronger Communities”. The particular focus was on campaigning strategy for trades union councils, but by necessity there was also a lot to say about the huge threat posed by the Tory Trade Union Bill, to be first read before parliament on the following Monday. It was an excellent event and extremely well attended.
The first speaker was Fire Brigades Union (FBU) leader, Matt Wrack, who began by affirming his strong support for trades councils and his belief that we needed to be more involved in the TUC as whole. On the trade union bill, Wrack layed out his own views on the debate within our movement on to respond. He cautioned against any line of argument that starts with Britain’s historically low levels of strike action, describing this as apologising for strikes. The right to strike is recognised as a basic human right by the UN, and is not something to apologise for. In any case, Tory cuts policies are set to put them into conflict with millions of workers, and strikes are likely to increase because we in the unions do not have the option of doing nothing. Wrack also said that a strategy against the bill that focused on lobbying Tory MPs to try to get them not to back the government, if we do not activate the mass of union members, will not work. He finished by praising the election of Jeremy Corbyn as a socialist and pro-trades union Labour leader, slammed the unprecedented media attacks in on Labour since Corbyn’s win (including the glib, and rather surreal, way that a British Army general was allowed to uncontroversially suggest that the army might act against an elected Labour government!) and said that FBU was now debating re-affiliating to the Labour Party. FBU disaffiliated by democratic decision of the members in the early 2000s after a bitter dispute against the then “New” Labour government of Tony Blair.
Matt Wrack was followed by recently elected Labour MP for Edmonton, and parliamentary private secretary to Jeremy Corbyn, Kate Osamore. Osamore declared herself to have having been a long-time active member of the trades union movement herself, as well as a community campaigner. Her MPs office has taken on some of the functions of legal support centre for working class people in Edmonton, who are facing the same serious issues as many other communities throughout the city, particularly over housing. This, on occasion, has required her to take different view from the Labour-run council. She particularly wanted to talk to trades’ council members about her work setting up the new nation-wide campaigning organisation, Momentum. This initiative, formed directly out of the phenomenal campaign that had coalesced behind the Corbyn for Leader campaign, which seeks to get the many thousands of people who were inspired by Corbyn’s message into useful on-the-ground activism: starting with a major drive to get people registered to vote to head off Tory efforts to disenfranchise working class and ethnic minority communities. Momentum is in its formative stages, so a great deal remains to be decided about its structures, but has a lot of potential to co-operate well with trades’ councils in the communities. Kate responded to a number of questions from the floor about some concerns that some elements of the the party were acting against the clear democratic choices of membership and registered support, by undermining Corbyn and his front bench. She said that there was unfortunately factional behaviour by many more rightwing MPs, but that this is currently the biggest opportunity the anti-austerity left has and that people who support Jeremy and his ideas will be better placed to support him as Labour Party members than standing on the outside.
Antonia Bance, the TUC’s new head of campaigns and communications, addressed us on her baptism-of-fire first case for the Congress: fighting the Trade Union Bill. She has done a lot of detailed research into how the public perceives the law change and what the strongest arguments are for winning them to our side. Interestingly, the aspect of the law that most shocks people is not the question of ballot thresholds and it also not restrictions on public sector strike action. The factor that most upsets the public’s sense of fair play is actually the new measures that have been introduced to institutionalise the use of agency workers to break strikes. Added to this (and now available on the TUC’s Facebook page), Bance illustrated what she was saying with the visible distress of Tory MP Steven Crabb on the Daily Politics, as he faltered before TUC leader Frances O’Grady’s arguments against the use of agency strike breaking. Further strong arguments that Bance sought to emphasise are the 14-day build-up period to any action. She challenged us to ask a blogger if they know what they’ll be posting two weeks in advance. Bance says that the parliamentary schedule for the bill is a typical, cynical one, ending on the last day before Christmas recess. This gives us only a couple of weeks to try and stop it, though she urged everyone to take seriously the possibility that we might and to accordingly lobby Tory MPs who may turn in time.
The conference also heard from the TUC’s Young Members Network in the region, which has a new leadership who have been hosting some successful events in their localities. These included weeks of action on themes such as “Low Pay Week” and “Decent Jobs Week”, as well as a remarkably effective young persons’ registration drive in Maidstone. Getting young members to take leading roles has been very important from the point of view of having people organising who are actually living the new reality of young workers today (one Network co-chair said she had counted a staggering 14 zero-hour contracts that she had had in the past year!). They told us that November is Young Workers’ Month, and that trades councils ought to support this by finding young people to act as youth liaison officers, supporting them to hold events and getting young workers to the TUC’s Young Members’ social on Saturday November 28th.
Much of the conference, however, was reports from various member trades’ councils, which was were we from Barnet were contributing. We heard from:
- Hastings TUC, which has established an Unemployed Workers Centre, both giving advice to unemployed workers and recruiting them into the movement. The resulting new members have enabled Unite Community to establish a brand new branch in the region. HTUC’s next new project is a multi-union learning centre in the area. Derek Hansford, speaking for HTUC, said he believed that this year’s 20th of June Peoples’ Assembly Against Austerity demonstration was the day that the new movement against austerity began in earnest.
- Bedford & District TUC, which returned from obscurity in the wake of the the election of the Tory-LibDem government in 2010, and has had “half a decade” of struggle. Like us in Barnet, BDTUC has become a primary organiser of local demonstrations against cuts and privatisation in the area, where they previously weren’t taking place at all. They also have renewed links with the local Labour Party and pushing for more pro-trades union policies.
- Bromley Trades Union Council, who face a radical rightwing Tory local administration that seeks to model itself on our own in Barnet! Like public sector workers in Barnet, Bromley workers have been forced to fight for their rights and the TUC has been a key source of support, as well as holding to account the toothless “scrutiny committees” that are setting up dangerously light-touch contracts with outsourced private service providers, much like our own.
Our own experiences from Barnet got a superb response, with our very effective model of the trades’ council working in a united front with, but not running or dominating, a range of democratic campaigns like BAPS and the Save Our Libraries Campaign. It was worth reflecting, despite the serious struggles we still have to wage here, on some of the things we have achieved. These include defeating the infamous Tory extremist Brian Coleman, who’s sudden downfall in 2012 is well remembered by trades unionists throughout London (particularly the FBU!).
The conference finished with a discussion about next years’ May Day events, with local groups being strongly urged to organise their own activities. Along with much else from today, this is something we must take away and discuss.
This November MPs will vote on the government’s controversial trade union bill, which threatens the basic right to strike for UK workers.
Shortly before the vote, on the afternoon of Monday 2 November, hundreds of people from all over the country will gather in London to meet their MPs. This is a big opportunity to make sure our MPs hear directly from people worried by the government’s plans to undermine the right to strike and to restrict pickets and protests.
We’re working to make the whole process as easy as possible, and will support constituents all the way. Following a nearby rally at 1pm in Westminister Central Hall, you’ll go with others to see your local MP in the House of Commons, to be followed by a demonstration at 5pm outside Parliament.
Why are we lobbying?
As part of the TUC’s campaign to stop the government’s trade union bill we want MPs to hear directly from their constituents that the bill threatens the right to strike. Employers will be able to break strikes by bringing in agency workers to cover for strikers. This could risk public safety and impact on the quality of services. And the bill also proposes new heavy-handed restrictions on picketing and protests. Threatening the right to strike tilts the balance in the workplace too far towards the employers- and that will mean workers can’t stand up for decent services and safety at work, or defend their jobs or pay.
Every MP should recognise that their constituents have a right to lobby them whether or not you voted for them. You can lobby your MP either in Parliament or at the constituency surgery which most MPs will organise on a regular basis. If they don’t have regular surgeries, they will usually list a phone number on their website where you can make an appointment to see them.
Meeting your MP
If you are coming to the lobby on the 2 November you should contact your MP in advance. The best way to contact your MP is to write to him or her at the House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. Most MPs also use email, and should treat emails in the same manner as a letter. You can find out your MP’s email address at the following website: www.parliament.uk
Follow the links to MPs and Lords and then find your MP. All MPs have already received a letter from the TUC about the lobby, so should be aware of the event. So keep your letter simple and polite, perhaps just stating that you will be coming, asking for a meeting. It is always useful to make it clear in the letter that you are a constituent of the MP. It is also worth giving your MP your mobile number, if you have one. This may help them track you down on the day. You can also suggest meeting your MP in the Committee Room allocated to your region.
Will you join us?
If you’d like to join us and meet your MP in Westminster, or if you’re interested to hear more, sign up below and we’ll keep you in the loop with the latest information and actions you can take.
Barnet TUC and the Barnet Alliance for Public Services are putting on transport to get to Manchester to join the nationwide protests against Tory austerity and attacks on workers’ rights on Sunday the 4th of October.
There will be three pick-up points:
- 6:45 AM: Finchley Central
- 7 AM: Hendon Central
- 7.15 AM: Mill Hill Broadway
Tickets are £15 for waged people, and £1 unwaged (plus donations if you can afford it).
Contact Barnet UNISON Tel. 020 8359 2088 Fax: 020 8446 5245 Email: email@example.com
Demo called by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and the Trades Union Congress.
Alongside the other three recognised trade unions in London Underground, TSSA will shortly ballot members on strike action and action short of strike. This follows the breakdown of talks on pay and Night Tube, LU’s attacks on staff terms, conditions and working practices, and management’s ongoing refusal to engage in meaningful negotiations and consultation with the trade unions.
ATTACKS ON PAY & PENSIONS
LUL has failed to negotiate or consult meaningfully with TSSA in regard to pay, Night Tube and Fit for the Future Stations (FFTFS) and are seeking to impose a two-year ‘no strike’ deal. Management are not adhering to the spirit and letter of the Machinery of negotiations, and are attempting to make changes to existing Framework Agreements and working practices without due process and negotiation. LUL’s approach is reminiscent of that adopted last year by Transport for London management, and if unchallenged, LU will seek to further attack pay, terms and conditions and pensions. They have already cut pay for new starters, and new P&D procedures, imposed in TfL, have recently been introduced into LUL. TSSA believes it is only a matter of time before LU seeks to impose Pay for Performance; a system imposed last year by TfL which indefinitely freezes the pay and pensions of longer serving staff.
ATTACKS ON WORKING CONDITIONS
LUL has proposed a new Framework for deployment of station staff. It is half the length of the current agreement, and significantly undermines current working practices. Here are some of the key proposals:
– A change can be made to your duties at 24 hours notice.
– 30 minute travel time guarantee is ABOLISHED. Instead, there is a 45 minute maximum travel time from the mid-point of the group.
– Higher grade working with no extra payments
– Staff who do not give 24 hours notice that they are unable to undertake planned overtime will be barred from further overtime for 28 days.
– Minimum period in which two consecutive shifts, totalling a maximum 18 hours, can be worked is halved, from 28 to 14 days.
– No provision for the 12 weekly cycle.
A copy of the new Framework for stations proposed by London Underground can be viewed at the following link: http://bit.ly/1Q34XEQ
We are still awaiting proposals for new Framework agreements to reflect changes to working in MATS and Service Control, despite having raised these issues over the last year in discussions about Night Tube and FFTFS. We believe that LU is committed to a wholesale for all of our members across London Underground.
NIGHT TUBE or NIGHTMARE?
LUL management have insisted on linking this year’s pay negotiations to Night Tube, not yet being open with staff about how it will affect them. Below are details of what Night Tube will mean for members:
WORSE WORKING HOURS & PRACTICES
LUL says they will employ part-time staff to cover Night Tube, but there will not be sufficient staff to cover sickness absence, annual leave etc, which will be down to existing station staff. This means:
– CSAs working more nights and weekends, with less opportunity to take up extra leave dates or mutually exchange their duties with colleagues, and could lead to duties being changed at shorter notice and more extreme shift changes.
– Stations Supervisors and Service Control Staff will not only be expected to work far more nights, but under Night Tube many of these will become traffic hours.
STAFF & PUBLIC SAFETY WILL BE COMPROMISED
– No minimum numbers in many stations, meaning an increase in lone-working, and some stations being unstaffed, despite LUL’s promise that would not be the case.
– Ticket offices will not be open at night, and CSAs will be expected to cover gate-lines and deal with ticketing and other enquiries from the public.
– Night Tube will run only 4 trains per hour, meaning that travellers will be hanging around stations for a longer, potentially in an inebriated state.
– Virtually no stations running Night Tube have public toilet facilities, and few public conveniences will be open outside tube stations at night.
– Many stations will only be part-open and LUL is now reneging on its commitment to provide fixed, lockable gates to secure non-operational areas. Instead, LUL is proposing less secure tensa-barriers, making it easier for people to access non-operational parts of the station where engineering work may be taking place.
– There is an increased likelihood of homeless people using trains and/or stations as overnight accommodation. This issue has already been flagged up by BTP.
TSSA’s H&S reps have been constantly questioning LUL management regarding their plans for operating Night Tube, and the consequent difficulties it will create for staff to evacuate and control numbers as and when necessary. LUL’s responses so far have been evasive, unhelpful and lacking in clarity.
AN ONGOING AND SIGNIFICANT CHANGE TO LUL OPERATIONS
– Night Tube has already been given the go ahead for Sept. 2015, regardless of readiness or safety
– Night Tube marks the start of a whole new operating practice, which will impact upon all LUL staff
– Night Tube is likely to be extended over time, to cover more stations and more days of the week
LUL’s offer of a one-off £500 payment in return for successful implementation and ongoing deliver of Night Tube is an insult to LUL staff.